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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court denies class cert in data breach suit

Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Courts Class Action Data Breach State Issues Third-Party

Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

On April 20, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification in a lawsuit alleging a defendant hotel and restaurant group breached its contract when a data breach exposed the plaintiffs’ credit card account numbers and other private information. Plaintiffs alleged the defendant contracted with a third-party reservation site, which required consumers to provide payment card information and other personally identifying information (PII). The plaintiffs contended that during the data breach, hackers accessed customer data, and argued that “had [the third party] ‘employed multiple levels of authentication,’ rather than ‘single factor authorization,’ the ‘hacker would not . . . have been able to access the system.” Plaintiffs further claimed that the defendant served as the third party’s agent and was therefore responsible for its conduct.

In declining to certify the class, the court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to successfully allege any of their three claims on behalf of the class. The court reviewed the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claims, which alleged that the defendant promised to safeguard class members’ PII but failed to provide notice on its website that a third party was processing the payment information. According to the court, the plaintiffs could not show that all of the proposed class members would have believed they were providing their information to the defendant because the defendant’s “Book Now” button sent the user to the third party’s website and the defendant’s privacy policy disclosed its use of third party websites. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ assertion that the defendant disclosed personal information in violation of California Civil Code because the information was hacked rather than disclosed by either the defendant or the third party. With respect to the plaintiffs’ Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act claims, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant’s statements about protective measures were misleading because the third party did not employ multi-layer authentication. The court concluded that class treatment of those claims was improper as it could not determine whether the practice was misleading for the entire class as the question is dependent on whether class members believed they were providing PII to the defendant or to the third party.